Thursday, October 30, 2014

Riding Skills 101: Ebb and Flow

Ebb and flow, and why its important stay calm and just ride

Cycling, just like any other sport, should be an exercise in calming our  nerves and stress levels with the added benefit of movement and sightseeing. The benefit of reducing stress in our lives is that it balances us emotionally and physically, and our bodies react positively by metabolizing better and feeling less fatigued. In no way should an activity like cycling become a cause for stress, so knowing what outlook to have when riding is important so that we get the most out of the exercise we put in. I'm going to be discussing what I refer to as the "ebb and flow", in cycling, particularly when it comes to mountain biking. However, anyone who rides a bicycle can benefit from the points that I will  bring out to help develop riding skills in both the road and the mountain.

What do I mean when I say, ebb and flow? Like an ocean tide or a calm stream, riding a bike should be a natural movement, complementing the environment around it and adapting to the contours of the land. This can be evident in one's ability to maneuver the bicycle, as well as one's pedaling efficiency and ability to spot obstacles on the trail. Although I can focus on just these aspects of riding there is a lot more to it than just good technique and balance. There is also an emotional element to riding that can accelerate or impede one's progress as a cyclist. Let me give a few examples of what I mean.

Some people drink Red Bull, listen to loud music and rev up their Jeep Wrangler's for everyone to see as they make their way to the mountain bike trail. Once there, they pull off their uber-expensive, full suspension mountain bikes off of their racks and attack the trail at high speed, ignoring the dryness of the soil or the abrupt turns, roots or drop-offs that they might encounter. The end result? Many people brake their frames, bottom out their shocks or hit a tree that they were not looking out for. It happens all the time, just look up the YouTube videos. In addition to injury, many riders exert enormous amounts of effort only to not make a personal best or the fastest time on the trail. 

Ebb and flow starts before the rubber hits the road. We need to check our state of mind before we set foot out the door for a ride. Are we calm? Are we focused? Are we aware? It is actually more beneficial to listen to relaxing music before a ride than to listen to something that will pump up our adrenaline (and stress levels) as a result.  If we are already aggressive before a ride, we are already depleting our energy levels even before the first pedal stroke. We are also not focused, instead we are looking over our shoulder to see who we dropped or who is gaining on us. By not being focused we are thus not aware of the obstacles that lay ahead. A good mountain biker will train his peripheral vision to see six to ten feet ahead of them at all times. This can make the difference between gearing down for a hill, crossing a rock garden or doing an endo over a ledge. We have to know when to adjust our body mechanics when something changes in the terrain. If we already expect the change, we have given our bodies time to react to it. A novice mountain biker only needs to learn a few basic skills and the rest is mostly awareness and focus. As long as a rider can lean their weight back when going downhill and can lift up their front wheel, that is almost all someone would need to know to ride basic singletrack.

On the road or on the mountain, hammerfests* should be avoided. Once somebody is riding at speed, their is no need to be continually sprinting, attacking and dropping other cyclists  in a non-race situation. Not only is it a big waste of energy, the person who does this sticks out like a sore thumb from the rest of the environment. They become a stressful pain in the rear in a otherwise idyllic setting. A calm cyclist holds a steady tempo and rides in a predictable nature. Someone who is naturally fast  usually glides past others rather than goes full sprint just to pass. Their movement, even when passing, seems natural and to be expected. A cheery hello or hand wave also removes any competitive feelings from the person getting passed.

A calm state of mind when riding, as well as mental focus will allow us to get the most out of our experience. We will make progress in our speed, our fitness and our bike handling skills logging the same amount of miles or less than a stressed out cyclist would. So pratice that ebb and flow!

Stay tuned for more informative posts.

*For those of you who don't know the meaning of this word, it refers to non-verbal challenges that cyclists usually make to one another, whether by rudely passing someone abruptly and intentionally not acknowledging them or by catching up to another cyclist for the sole purpose of sprinting past them. We have all done it at one time or another, however it is not acceptable behavior and should be avoided.


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